Accompanying defenders by walking alongside them

We recently welcomed new field volunteers to the PBI Colombia project from Argentina, Chile, Spain, Italy, Greece, the Basque Country, Ireland, Italy and Norway.

They arrived to accompany human rights defenders in Colombia just a few months ago, and here we asked them to introduce themselves to you.

Aldana, Argentina

My name is Aldana, of Argentinean nationality. For several years I have known about the work carried out by PBI in the Colombian territory which aligns with many of the values that drive me.  Throughout my life I have been formed in the social and community movements, passing through spaces and institutions related to the defence of Human Rights. As a Latin American woman, I am very committed to the diverse realities of our continent. Each of these realities with its particular pathway, is identified in a common history, a history full of struggle and resistance. It is for this reason that today I am happy to have the opportunity to be of service to the community of my continent. This is the main motivation that inspired me and inspires me to be part of the PBI Colombia project. I believe that it is an organization that responds in a concrete way to the problems that this country is going through today, collaborating in the construction of a stable and lasting peace. And above all, working on a daily basis for a world where there is a place for each and every one of us.

Delia, Chile

Hello, my name is Delia and I’m Chilean. The deep-rooted feeling of belonging and appreciation of this continent makes me feel committed to its history, its wonderful culture and to the defense of human rights, which are so often violated here.

On my path here to Colombia, I carried out internships at the Inter-American level, both at the Commission and the IACHR Court, where I had to analise numerous processes, in all their stages, meaning that my approach to this subject, until now, has been intellectual. However, the great impact caused by the prevailing socio-political violence in Colombia, which has dragged on for so many decades, led me to seek a way to collaborate more directly in the defense of the fundamental rights of the Colombian people.

Therefore, on the advice of my friend Fidel, who spoke highly of PBI, I decided to participate as a field brigadista in Colombia, (“so beautiful and good” – as the Cuban-guajiro Polo Montañez sang). Interacting, collaborating, accompanying and closely observing the processes of organizations, defenders and communities who, tirelessly, and against all odds, persist in their just struggle, seemed to me much more effective and gratifying than summarizing hundreds of pages of judicial processes, where I felt that my contribution was meager.

PBI’s integral protection approach, its mandates, work focuses and principles, which I have come to know, have made me feel useful and absolutely committed to what I intended to do and what I came to do. I’m convinced that this experience implies participating in the purest human richness and will be an exceptional learning experience.

Jason, Ireland

I arrived in Colombia for the first time in July 2016, a month after the signing of the Peace Agreement. I spent two and a half years living in a Colombia in transition. It seemed to me that there was a lot of hope for the future. Although I left Colombia at the end of 2018, I followed the situation in the country and the progress of the Peace Agreement with great interest. I was disappointed to observe the trajectory of the country in recent years and the increase in violence faced by human rights defenders and community leaders.

I wanted to go back to do what I could to support the peace process. Luckily, a colleague recommended PBI to me. I was very impressed by the principles and strategies of the organization, especially the strategy of non-interference. I loved the proposal to be able to protect and facilitate, through accompaniment, the important work of Colombian human rights organizations. We have already met some human rights defenders in our training and they have inspired me tremendously. It will be an honour to accompany them. I am very grateful to be here in Colombia with PBI and I am very excited to get started.

Ruth, Spain

I always explain that I have a very extensive CV. I’ve been a dancer, holiday entertainment crew, I´ve worked in events, as a waitress and even had my own travel agency. While working as cabin crew for an English airline, I studied sociology. When I decided to reorient my professional career towards the social sector, I worked in an emergency centre for unaccompanied foreign minors, but I still had I still had to try to work in the field. It was something that I always thought of doing, but due to circumstances, I still hadn’t had the chance.

I discovered PBI thanks to a colleague from a humanitarian logistics course, I became interested in the organization, and it seemed like a very good way to start on the field. I hope to do my bit and help so that human rights defenders in Colombia can continue to carry out their work and thus build a lasting peace in this wonderful country.

Not only that, but I feel very lucky to have the opportunity to be here and participate in this project with PBI!

Tasos, Greece

Hello! My name is Tasos and I am from Greece. I feel grateful for participating in this project with Peace Brigades and to walk alongside the human rights defenders who are involved in implementing the peace process in Colombia. There is much to learn from the peace communities and the human rights defenders who risk their life in the struggle for fair and peaceful social change. This is a critical moment for Colombia, with many challenges, but the Colombian people have the resilience and the power to construct a stable and sustainable peace.

Margherita, Italy

In 2019 I first heard the testimony of an Italian volunteer who had spent two years in the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó. The commitment to non-violence in the midst of a conflict, whether individual or communal, rarely obtains an international resonance equal to the darkest chronicles of the war; I had never heard of the San José community and my knowledge of the Colombian conflict was mostly limited to a few academic articles dealing with the much better-known topic of the “guerrilla”.

A year later, during my master in “Human Rights and Conflict Management”, a colleague told me about PBI and for the second time I came across the name of the community, which is accompanied by the organization. What struck me most of the PBI’s work was its commitment to non-interference with the self-determination of peoples: there is nothing that as external actors we can teach, or impose, on those who live a conflict and resists non-violently every day, quite the opposite. However, this does not mean remaining neutral in the face of human rights violations, but rather accompanying people involved in peace processes by walking alongside them.

PBI’s deep work ethic is what most prompted me to take this path. I believe that the year and a half that lies ahead of me and my team in Urabá as field volunteers will be full of frustrations and joys; however, I am ready to face this challenge with the genuine happiness of having come this far, with the conviction that change, however small it may be, is always possible.

Íñigo, País Vasco

I came to know PBI through their report about the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó. Back then I was finishing my masters in Colombia and working in a local communications organization dedicated to Peace and Human Rights issues. Mi biggest interest during my studies was the humanitarian-peace-development nexus. I feel that PBI’s work in Colombia is a perfect example of this type of protection to all those people committed in building peace at the local level through their engagement in the defence of universal rights that have been undermined by decades of violence. Those committed with defending peace, their life, their land, their culture, their communities, their identity and their nonviolent resistance mechanisms have inspired me to choose this path that has led me to PBI.

For the next 18 months I will be in Uraba’s field team and I will have the opportunity to meet the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó, my main interest coming back to Colombia and how I came to know PBI’s work. Without a doubt, this period will be full of lessons and space to learn about the collective work of the communities and the people involved in this beautiful project. I hope I will be able to contribute to the work of the accompanied organizations during these months and that it will provide spaces for mutual learning.

Hannah, Norway

What struck me the first time I heard about PBI was how progressive and modern the way of working is. In particular, the principles of horizontality and non-interference are tools that I have a lot of confidence in. To achieve the goal of protecting the space around human rights defenders, non-interference allows us to do exactly that: the defenders are the experts in their work, and our mandate is to protect their power and right to do that work in peace. More and more we see that this way of working is the most sustainable.

When the opportunity to do this kind of work opened up, I felt like I had found the best project to work on in terms of human rights. I always wanted to put my passion into practice. My studies and work so far have focused mostly on the environment, protecting the world’s forests, the oceans and vulnerable ecosystems. If we protect the space for human rights defenders, at the same time we protect the environment in the long run. They are two sides of the same coin. I am incredibly happy that the opportunity to work with PBI in Colombia has presented itself to me. I think being a brigadista requires analytical skills, strong commitment and passion for the principles of the organization, and that resonates with me a lot. I think it’s also going to be a life learning experience, and very enriching for me personally.

¡Welcome to PBI Colombia!

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